Sandpaper and Learning

You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you the answer anyway: the reason my site has a sandpaper background is to honor the role that woodworking played in my professional development.

Some background: when I was in junior high school, I was required to take a class called Industrial Arts, otherwise known as “Shop Class.” I was terrible at it and my teacher never missed an opportunity to remind me how bad I was at using tools. Except for this one class, I loved school. And yet I got into a habit of faking illness to avoid the weekly torture of Industrial Arts.

When our youngest was born, some 21 years ago, I was in between teaching jobs so I spent most of a year as a stay-at-home dad. It was a great year in many ways, though I still cringe at the sound of certain children’s songs. Aside from the benefits of spending so much time with our children, the best thing that happened that year was that I chose to teach myself woodworking.

I’d wanted a challenge, and nothing seemed like more of a challenge than to teach myself a craft that I had feared as a youngster. And, being a natural cheapskate, the prospect of making (seemingly) inexpensive gifts for others was attractive. Also attractive was the idea of observing my progress in learning to work wood and paying attention to what worked and didn’t work. It satisfied my inner scientist.

The result of all this observation was that I clarified and strengthened a few core beliefs about how learning works. They are:

  • Motivation matters. It matters a lot, in fact.
  • Paying attention to your learning pays off exponentially.
  • Engaging yourself in as many learning modes as possible (visual, verbal, kinesthetic, etc.) also pays off exponentially.

A year or so after I started working wood, I moved on from teaching in school to starting my career as a training consultant. And for all of the twenty years since I’ve been working in the training field, I’ve pushed myself and my clients to follow the principles I listed above. They really, really do work.


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